On 25 May, after screening the first episode of the second season of House of Cards, MediaWorks made all the episodes for the show available for online viewing via its on-demand service, 3NOW.
The new season of the popular Netflix show will be available for 28 days from the release date, giving binge viewers four weeks to squeeze in all 13 episodes.
This move follows on from MediaWorks’ decision to release an on-demand box set to coincide with the screening of the first season, which became the broadcaster’s most-streamed programme, tallying up a total of 230,000 hits (about 17,700 per episode).
At the recent Radio Rewired conference held in Auckland, TRN's chief content officer Dean Buchanan said: "Gone are the days where we sit around as family, hold hands, sing Kumbaya and wait for our favourite show to come. The demand is such that people want their content immediately." Although whimsical, this statement does to some degree correlate with the television industry's increased focus on on-demand viewing.
But while the streaming numbers are impressive, making content available online brings into question whether television shows are capable of keeping viewers engaged throughout the course of a series. And it also creates the risk of viewers not watching TV at all, and opting instead for the instantly available online alternative.
“We see the different platforms as complementary, not competing with each other, and many of our viewers watched some [first season] episodes on TV3 and some on 3NOW, using the platform that suited them best at a particular time,” says Siobhan McKenna, the director of interactive for MediaWorks.
She also says that according to Nielsen TAM statistics each episode of the first season attracted 47,400 television viewers (aged five and older).
Across the broadcaster divide, TVNZ has also dabbled in the release of box sets while airing weekly episodes of a series.
In 2012, the network aired the first season of Scandal on TV2 and released a box set that was available to online viewers that didn’t want to wait for the episodes to hit their television screens.
According to TVNZ corporate affairs manager Megan Richards, the estimated average audience per episode was 178,000, of which 11 percent viewed the show online, resulting in a total of 141,439 streams (about 20,200 per episode) during the series.
Richards says that the on-demand viewing trends provide a glimpse at some of the preferences of the online audience.
“The peak online viewing of Scandal was in the evenings which is commonplace for the majority of on-demand content. (8 to 10pm, generally). As with most shows, the episodes are most watched immediately after they’re available in on-demand. There were double the amounts of streams for the premiere in comparison to the catch up screening.”
In contrast, McKenna says that on-demand viewership statistics for MediaWorks were slightly more erratic and seemingly depended on individual schedules.
“The interesting thing is that viewing patterns were scattered across every single day of the week the week, tailored to the individual’s preference,” she says. “There was a slight concentration to Mondays, after the Sunday night free-to-air scheduled broadcast on TV3, but certainly not a strong skew.”
In contrast to Netflix and other (legal) streaming services, neither MediaWorks nor TVNZ charge for their on-demand services. Both broadcasters have instead opted to use an advertising-supported model that’s funded through pre-rolls, mid-rolls and sponsorship agreements.
“[MediaWorks] has had continued support from Stella Artois, who sponsored both box sets on 3NOW,” says McKenna. “They received sponsorships association, billboard, mid-rolls, and display on the fan zone as well as inclusion in a variety of display campaigns to promote the Box set opportunity to the public. Other clients can book advertising on pre-rolls and mid-rolls.”
The decision to keep the content free of charge is largely attributable to the fact that both MediaWorks and TVNZ rely on audience numbers to facilitate their ad-funded models.
However, these audience numbers aren’t as high as they could be on account of the fact that much of the content available through the on-demand services has already screened abroad and can be accessed—admittedly through illegal means—via other websites.
Rachel Lorimer, the group head corporate communications at MediaWorks, has however said that it would be difficult to find a way around this problem.
“As a rule, all international programmes premiere in their home country first,” she says. “I’m not aware of any New Zealand broadcaster who has had the rights to premiere an international show before its home territory, and suspect those rights are not available. We’ve come pretty close at times, with both Homeland and The X Factor US screening in New Zealand within a few hours of the worldwide premiere (in the US in both cases), and both shows therefore being available on-demand in New Zealand in a similar timeframe.”
And while not necessarily solving this problem entirely, TVNZ has been trumpeting the success of its OD Firsts offering, which focuses on delivering shows within two days of having aired in their home countries.
“OD Firsts is doing extremely well with over 1.6 million streams since launch at the end of March. The strength of these stream numbers suggests a strong appetite for this content. The 100 is the most successful series ever to screen on on-demand in terms of average streams per episode, averaging more than 52,000 streams per episode. A number of other OD Firsts shows appear in the top 20 on-demand series screened in 2014. OD Firsts streams have contributed to significant on-demand growth across the last two months. Both March [5.6 million videos streamed] and April [5.67 million videos streamed] were record months in terms of total streams for on-demand,” says Richards.